DURBAN - Sharks fans were understandably disappointed when rising star Pieter-Steph du Toit chose not to renew his contract at Kings Park at the end of 2015 and return to Cape Town.
What did not register as a blip on the Durban radar was that the Sharks had done a swop deal with Western Province.
That blip was a 22-year-old Ruan Botha, and his introduction to the Sharks could not have been more low key because he arrived injured, and it took almost a full season before the lock saw action in the black and white.
Even then he battled to force his way past incumbent second rowers Etienne Oosthuizen and Stephan Lewies.
But if ever there was a bud patiently waiting to blossom it was this 2.05m, 120kg gentle giant. Botha had the pedigree - he played five matches for the South Africa Under-20 team that won the Junior World Championship in 2012 - but he had to bide his time and it has really been only this season that he has almost literally sprung into life.
There were some fierce performances from him in Super Rugby and he initially earned notoriety for his unfortunate knack of picking up yellow cards (often for high tackles) but there was also plenty of honest soldiering and by the end of Super Rugby, he had built a reputation as a lock not to be trifled with.
The national selectors rewarded him with selection for the SA A team that played the French Barbarians, while Sharks coach Robert du Preez had no hesitation in naming him captain for the Sharks’ Currie Cup challenge.
If the Sharks go on to win the final on Saturday, there would be no more deserving player than Botha to hold aloft the historic trophy. He has been outstanding and has led by example.
His coach has not been shy to state that Botha belongs in higher company, but No 5 lock is a position in which the Boks are richly blessed.
There is his “old” rival Du Toit, World Cup 2015 star Lood de Jager and workhorse Franco Mostert, all relative youngsters.
Nevertheless, Bok coach Allister Coetzee knows that injury can quickly ravage depth, and he will be pleased at how Botha has risen to the occasion this year.
He may be ferocious on the field, but Botha is the opposite off it.
“I did not have the ideal start at the Sharks but injury is part of the job description and I accepted that I had to wait it out,” Botha said.
“Eventually I got my chance when Stephan (Lewies) got injured. That is life as a rugby player. But I was always hungry and focussed on proving myself. The (later) leadership role was not something that I expected but I am honoured that it came my way, and I wanted to do the captaincy justice.”
He has done that and more. Over the 13 weeks of the Currie Cup, he and Curwin Bosch have just about shared the Man-of-the-Match awards for the Sharks.
Botha’s latest accolade was in last week’s semi-final against the Blue Bulls, where he showed his mobility and handling skills by charging down an attempted clearance and gathering to score a memorable try.